PD Martin's Blog

June 10, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – application process

Filed under: Doctorate,Writing — PD Martin @ 11:48 am

I decided to apply for a PhD back in September 2014, and since I received the fantastic news that I got in (!) I’ve been meaning to blog about the process, especially the key milestones. So, this is a retrospective blog on the application process and I’ll write other blogs to catch up with the process over the coming months.

The application process itself is fairly time-consuming, but the effort is well worth it. The first thing to do is look a universities that fit the bill. Things to consider include the university’s creative writing reputation, the course structure, the supervisors and the location (although not as important with a research PhD in this day and age).

While researching some of my top picks (the universities I knew had strong creative writing departments), I discovered that the creative writing PhD in Australia is either via a Doctorate of Philosophy or a Doctorate of Creative Arts. However, regardless of which PhD you enrol in, the structures can be very different across universities. A research PhD in creative writing consists of:

  1. A creative writing piece (e.g. a collection of short stories or poems, or a novel/novella).
  2. An exegesis (a researched, academic paper that ideally addresses a gap in the current research).

Now, the balance (and word counts) assigned to these elements vary. Some universities require a 50,000 word novel (novella) and a 50,000 word exegesis. I didn’t feel this break up was conducive to producing a viable, publishable novel — plus, to be honest, it wouldn’t play to my strengths. I’ve got a lot more experience as an author/novelist than writing academic papers and theses. So for me, my first point of difference was to look at the structure and investigate universities where the creative-to-exegesis ratio was more like 70:30.

The next (and arguably most important element) to research was each university’s supervisors. Basically, you need to match your writing and potential research field with the academic staff at each university. Some universities have a central application system (you send in your proposal and the co-ordinator discusses it with the staff to see if anyone’s interested) but at most of the universities I investigated the onus was on the applicant to research the academic staff and approach them directly to gauge interest. This probably takes as much time (maybe more) as actually writing the proposal!

Finally, I considered the university’s location, but it wasn’t a deciding factor for me. Again, because for much of the time you’re working autonomously the university doesn’t have to be nearby or even in the same state, Once you’re up and running, you do ‘meet’ with your supervisor fortnightly, but these meetings can be done with a combination of emails, phone calls and in-person meetings.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of offers in the end, but I chose Adelaide University. The things I love the most about Adelaide University are its creative writing reputation and my supervisor Brian Castro (who recently won the Patrick White Literary Award and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin four times). As I shift my writing focus, I believe Brian will be an invaluable guide along the way.

So here’s to the next three years!


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